Monday, 7 February 2011

Mullaney sinks into the sewer

Over the last few days I have received a lot of reaction to my anti-war protest in the Council Chamber. Some if it, including from ex-servicemen, has been very supportive. Some of it has been pure racist abuse. But a lot of it has been from genuine people upset and hurt by my actions.

As a politician I have to take responsibility for my actions and the messages I convey. My intention was to register my opposition to what I see as the hypocritical actions of our politicians. They refuse to hold our government to account for a decade of failure in Afghanistan, while shedding crocodile tears about those who return from this war injured, maimed or worse. The fact is that for all the talk from politicians about 'our heroes' many soldiers are literally dumped on the scrap heap when they are deemed of no further use.

And it is not just the lives of British soldiers being destroyed. There is virtually no public discussion about the impact of the war on the people of Afghanistan. In the first 10 months of 2010, six thousand Afghan civilians have been killed. Neighbouring Pakistan too is in flames, with suicide and car bombings every other day. The destabilisation of the whole region as a result of this war is exacting a terrible price.

Lives are being destroyed on all sides and I feel passionately that this war is deeply, deeply immoral.

However, it is clear that many people did not see my action as expressing disrespect for these politicians, but instead saw only disrespect for the soldiers. That was not my intention. I am sorry that my actions caused offence, and I apologise to those who were hurt by them.

I have had a lot of criticism in recent days. I don’t object to that at all. People are entitled to agree or disagree with me, and they are entitled to express this strongly if they wish. I have taken every opportunity to debate with my critics, and have not run away from the argument.

But something new is happening with this debate. It has taken a very nasty turn, with ugly smears being used that are normally the preserve of those websites and organisations devoted to spreading hate.

For this, Councillor Martin Mullaney is to blame. He has taken the debate into the sewer.

Mullaney repeats a series of lies about me, many of which have been long used by crank racist and fascist websites. Like those on EDL demos who carry hate-filled placards with my image, he accuses me of supporting terrorist bombings. His evidence? A speech I gave at an event organised by the Mayor of London, in which I was Ken Livingstone's partner in a debate with two pro-war neo-conservatives.

In that debate, I made a connection between our foreign policy and the threat of terrorism, pointing out that terrorists considered their actions to be 'reprisal events' for some perceived injustice or evil.

If pointing out that there is a connection between foreign policy and heinous events like the murder of innocent civilians on 7/7 makes you a supporter of such actions, then the former head of MI5 must be an 'extremist' too, because she said the same thing. As did intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, no serious commentator now articulates the view, expressed by Tony Blair at the time, that there was no connection between our foreign policy and the terrorist threat we all face.

Accusing me of being a supporter of terrorist bombings on the basis of identifying the root of a problem is like accusing a doctor who diagnoses a cancer in a patient as being the transmitter of the disease.

The idea that the Mayor of London at the time of the 7/7 bombings would have as a supporting colleague in a debate someone who in any way endorsed terrorist atrocities like 7/7, is not only preposterous, it also slanderous of Ken Livingstone.

Mullaney's claim that I, in any way, supported or condoned terrorist attacks like the 7/7 bombings is simply pathetic. It is a desperate and a blatant lie. I condemned it at the time without any reservation and indeed helped organise shortly afterwards a thousand strong vigil of Birmingham Muslims with the message ‘Not in Our Name’.

He also claims that I am seeking to introduce some version of an Islamic state in Britain. His evidence? A satirical article written in my late teens, when at university, humorously ridiculing the very idea of an Islamic state in Britain! It is ludicrous to treat this, admittedly juvenile spoof, with any seriousness at all. But that is what Mullaney, and now the Birmingham Mail have done.

Even a cursory glance at my record would consign any such charge to the dustbin. I have openly and repeatedly condemned terrorism. I have spoken out in favour of women’s rights; I have spoken out against anti-semitism; I have argued against homophobia, and all forms of oppression. And I have done so regardless of whether it has meant criticising Muslims or non-Muslims.

One feature of our world since 9-11 is the way that Muslims who criticise our foreign policy invariably find themselves described as 'extremists'. The term is most often used in a cynical and sinister way, intended to smear political opponents. It acts to blur any difference between Muslims critical of government policy but who advocate engagement in the political process to change it; and Muslims who abhor any such engagement and advocate violent, sectarian alternatives.

This is an ugly politics, and the politicians who practice it are playing a dangerous game. Its effect among non-Muslims is to feed a sense of fear, intolerance and racism towards Muslim communities. Its effect on Muslims is to play directly into the hands of those within the community who argue that there is no place in British society for any Muslim who cares about their brothers and sisters abroad; that they will always be viewed as a 'suspect community'; that they will never be treated equally.

This is the game that Mullaney is playing when he insinuates that my ‘radicalism’ means extremism. The radicalism I promote is based on a politics of solidarity; one that goes beyond divisions of race, nationality and religion, sexuality or gender. I stand for a world based on equality and social justice. To compare this to the hate-filled, violent and reactionary radicalism of Al-Qaeda is utterly absurd.

Until now, politicians in Birmingham have been generally responsible about the words they use in these tense times in which we live. Unfortunately Councillor Martin Mullaney has undone that good tradition at a stroke.

We live in times where the leader of the BNP can wholeheartedly endorse comments about Muslims by David Cameron as evidence of "a further huge leap for our ideas into the political mainstream". We live in times where EDL marchers can openly threaten to burn down our places of worship. Every day the air thickens with the stench of anti-Muslim racism. It is not surprising that many Muslims see worrying analogies between what is happening to us now, and what happened to Jews in this country in the early part of the 20th century.

I do not have a word of complaint about robust and sharp criticism directed at me. But I will not tolerate racist abuse. And I think it is outrageous that a leading member of the Liberal Democrats, and a cabinet member in Birmingham City Council, can spread the kind of lies and smears against a political opponent more normally spewed by racist bigots.